Sunday School Lesson for September 2, 2001
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Salutation and Blessing (1:1)
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian believers begins in the customary fashion of the day with an identification of the writers and recipients. The epistle is from the trio of missionary brothers who were responsible for taking the gospel to the people of Macedonia. To some degree, they each participated in the writing of this letter (note the frequent use of the first person plural throughout the epistle). "Timothy," a man mentioned in every Pauline epistle except Galatians and Ephesians, served as the apostle’s "special assistant and emissary" (Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistle to the Thessalonians, NIGTC, 68) and had been with Paul in the planting and development of the Thessalonian congregation (Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thess. 3:2). "Silvanus," also know as "Silas," was Paul’s faithful missionary assistant in the initial work at Thessalonica.
The recipients of the letter are identified as "the church of the Thessalonians." The Greek term translated "church" finds its background in the Old Testament concept of the assembly of the Israelites who were summoned before the Lord as a covenant community. Here the word indicates the assembly of all those who had become followers of Jesus by grace through faith in His name. While "of the Thessalonians" provides the geo-political identity of the recipients, the phrase "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" provides its spiritual location and identity. It is a community of believers firmly anchored in "God the Father"—the first Person of the holy trinity who has revealed Himself in the Person and work of "the Lord Jesus Christ." The linkage of God and Christ makes it clear that the church at Thessalonica had its origin in and owed its existence to the activity of the triune God. Furthermore, the joining of the Father and the Son under a single preposition ("in") "bears witness to the exalted place which the risen Christ occupies in the thoughts of Paul and his colleagues" (F. F. Bruce, 1&2 Thessalonians, WBC vol. 45, 6). To be "in" both God and Christ represents the most secure and satisfying relationship possible between sinful men and holy God, and provides the foundation for the believer’s full participation in the resurrection life of Jesus.
"Grace" and "peace" denote the twin blessings of salvation. Serving as much more than a customary liturgical greeting or epistolary nicety, these Christian graces trumpet the foundation and glorious result of God’s saving activity in Christ. "Grace," defined as the spontaneous and free favor of God displayed toward unworthy sinners for the sake of Christ, is the source and ground of salvation. "Peace," defined as spiritual wholeness and satisfaction, is the resultant state enjoyed by the sinner who has experienced God’s grace. As such, their order of appearance in the text is quite significant in that "there can be no true peace until the grace of God has dealt with sin" (Leon Morris, The Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, TNTC vol. 13, 33).
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving (1:2-3)
As Paul and his missionary companions reflected upon the establishment of the church at Thessalonica, they were compelled to "give thanks to God always" for each of the believers there (v. 2). This language, and the phrase "making mention of you in our prayers," strongly suggests that the trio regularly met for times of prayer and fervent intercession on behalf of the young congregation. As they prayed and remembered the believers there, they were "constantly bearing in mind," or remembering, three facts related to the exemplary nature of the Thessalonian’s Christian character (v. 3):
Evidence of an Exemplary Faith (1:4-10)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy also rejoiced and gave thanks for the Thessalonian Christians because there was convincing evidence of the authenticity of their faith in Christ—"knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." They knew, with absolute certainty, that "the Thessalonian believers [were] truly among the elect people of God because the unmistakable signs of the new life [had] become apparent to them" (Bruce, 13). Specifically, it was the way they responded to and were transformed by the preaching of the "gospel" (v. 5). From the verses that follow, several identifying marks of authentic saving faith are set forth:
Major Themes to Discuss and Apply
One: Once again, consider the relationship between grace and peace. What does the absence of peace in one’s life signify in the case of the non-believer? To the believer?
Two: Paul declares in verse 1 that the church is "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." How does this fact bring comfort to believers today? What are some of the implications of this truth?
Three: In light of verses 2-3, what is it that makes a believer praise-worthy? That is, what characteristics can we cultivate in our lives that will bring both glory to God, edification to other believers, and bold witness to the world?
Four: Regarding steadfastness under persecution and difficulty, how well do twenty-first century believers measure up? What would happen to us if we found ourselves in circumstances like those of the Thessalonians?
Five: What is the proper, God-glorifying way to anticipate and prepare for the return of Christ?